Graduate School Enrollments Decline

Graduate school enrollment is going down. Is this something American universities should try to correct, to get more people into these programs? Or is this the market at work, are college graduates merely making more rational decisions?

According to an article by Jon Fortenbury at USA Today:

A report by the Council of Graduate Schools…shows a 1.7 percent decline in enrollment of first-time graduate students between fall 2010 and fall 2011…. All fields experienced a decline in enrollment, except health sciences, which increased by 6.4 percent.

It’s the second year in a row that grad school enrollment has declined in America.

But graduate school applications are still increasing. The report indicated a 4.3 percent increase in graduate school applications.

So what’s going on? Well, according to the article the major factor here is funding. People are still applying, and being admitted, to graduate programs. It’s just that graduate schools are offering less funding. Students accepted but not offered funding simply decided not to enroll.

Unlike undergraduate programs, academic graduate programs (where students expect to earn PhDs or master’s degrees in humanities or the sciences) are usually free, or at least students expect them to be free.

But when students don’t receive funding, they take it (appropriately) as a good sign the programs to which they’ve been admitted don’t really want them very much.

This is in contrast to pre-professional programs (law degrees and MBAs), where large debt loads are common because students expect to earn vastly higher salaries once they graduate.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer